Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A nation of wimps?

Yesterday was the 5 year anniversary of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and like many other people, I remember exactly where I was when it occurred...I was sound asleep in my bed. It was still pitch dark outside here in California when the bedroom door opened and a flashlight was pointed at my face. "An airplane crashed into the World Trade Center," said Joe. I half sat up and asked what kind of airplane. He said he didn't know and that I should get some rest and he'd let me know when he found out more information. I laid back down thinking it was probably some small private airplane that had somehow gotten off course. I went back to sleep but a short time later, the bedroom door again opened and again the flashlight in my face woke me up. "A second plane crashed into the World Trade Center and one crashed into the Pentagon, it looks like we're under attack," reported Joe. "You better get up." In September 2001, we worked for CNN.com and this was definitely "breaking news," the stuff we lived for.

As I made my way out of bed to my computer, Joe had a cup of coffee waiting for me. The TVs were on and the CNN.com official chat room was full of people anxious to know what was happening and wanting to talk about it. Like every other dot-com in 2001, CNN's online community had been downsized in recent months and Joe and I along with a handful of staff were the only ones left to handle the crowds that were gathering online. By mid-afternoon, CNN called me and told me to hire back as many staff as I could because they wanted the chat rooms open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for as long as needed. Over the next days and weeks, we got very little sleep. Thousands of people a day from all over the world had a desperate need to talk about what had happened and about the repercussions that ensued, the anthrax scares, the invasion of Afghanistan, the search for Osama Bin Laden, and it was our job to listen to them and record what they had to say.

I no longer work for CNN but I'm still a news and politics junkie, though a jaded one to be sure. I think working for a news giant for 5 years will do that to you. I've seen how the media can put a spin on a story to give it a bias one way or another without obviously appearing to do so, deftly insinuating how we should think about an issue without coming right out and saying it. I've seen them hype one news story over another equally or more important story when they want to downplay something that might otherwise be embarrassing to them. Joe and I call it the "Maybe There'll Be Breaking News Tomorrow" syndrome...but that's a story for another day. TV, radio, newspapers and magazines have tremendous impact on our perception of the world around us and on how we react to things.

As I watched and read the coverage of the memorials to the 9/11 attacks yesterday, I was struck by what a nation of wimps we are. Yes, that's what I said...wimps! Am I the only one who thinks it's unseemly for Americans to be openly weeping about the loss of lives on that day FIVE YEARS after it happened? Whatever happened to the strong American? A picture of strength and courage that comes to mind for me is Jackie Kennedy after President Kennedy was assassinated. I don't believe she or her children ever cried in public. Today she would probably be called some kind of cold-hearted person if she didn't break down for the cameras. Today, instead of showing strength to the world, we show how much we "care" and how deeply we "feel the pain" of others by crying and whining for years about any tragedy that befalls us. We memorialize everything, whether or not it affects us personally. I blame the era of 24-hour cable news channels for this. When you've got 24 hours of airtime to fill and it's a slow news day, life can be a bitch. News media love anniversaries of tragedies, whether it's the 9/11 attacks, the Columbine shootings or the murder of Jon-Benet Ramsey. We're subjected to the tears of those who were there, or who knew someone who was there, or who knew the cousin of someone who knew someone who was there and call it "news." They can fill up hours of programming for days with a good anniversary.

Besides showing the world what wimps we are, I think all this public grieving has a terrible effect on our children. I think it teaches them to be weak, as individuals and as Americans. Death is a fact of life, whether it happens naturally or through an accident or through murder or terrorism. Instead of showing strength in the face of tragedy and adversity, we cry. Instead of celebrating someone's life, we erect morbid "memorials" complete with burning candles and photos on roadsides where someone died in a car crash or in front of the home of someone who was murdered. Total strangers come to these "altars" to cry and be sad and leave little tokens, often with news cameras and reporters there to record it. I'm sorry, but I think that is just too weird. We use the media as a therapist's couch, crying over how devastated we are, telling the world that we don't know how we'll get through this or over that (whatever it is). One news channel yesterday remarked that it was so much more difficult for children who lost a parent in the 9/11 attacks than it was for a child who lost a parent to some other sort of death, so much more to cope with. Do they think a 12 year old whose father died unexpectedly in a car accident is any less devastated than one whose parent died on 9/11? Perhaps it's the endless tears on TV that is keeping the children of 9/11 victims from getting on with their lives.

I don't know, maybe I'm just too cynical.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the great essay.
    I must have used the combat capable coffee maker.